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Fixing the U.S.-Brazil Relationship

Roger Cohen makes the case for an improved U.S.-Brazilian relationship in a somewhat confused way:

There may be more perplexing international relationships in the world than the troubled one between the United States and Brazil, but there are not many. A natural friendship has fissured under unnatural strain [bold mine-DL].

Relations with Brazil have certainly worsened since the revelations about NSA surveillance of Rousseff, but the relationship had been neglected and mishandled long before that. The Brazilian government thought that it had been shabbily treated by the administration when the latter swatted down its joint attempt with Turkey to find a compromise with Iran on the nuclear issue four years ago, and they had a point. Not only did the U.S. react foolishly in that episode, but it then stupidly chose to hold a grudge against the Brazilians for years after that. The resulting resentment is not nearly as “odd” as Cohen would have us think.

Better relations with Brazil would be desirable for the U.S., but we shouldn’t start from the assumption that there is a “natural friendship” between the two countries that has been spoiled by a few events. There is a potentially very constructive relationship that could be cultivated, but that requires understanding that even in an improved relationship the two countries will still have divergent interests from time to time. Washington can’t expect Brazil to follow its lead reliably on many international issues, but it shouldn’t let disagreements on these issues harm the relationship. It also requires not holding it against Brazil when it conducts its own foreign policy that may sometimes be at odds with the U.S. on issues that shouldn’t matter to the bilateral relationship. After all, who really cares if Brazil abstained on the Libya resolution in 2011 or the Crimea vote earlier this year?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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